I was asked about installing red/blue lights on a CFA unit back in November 2012 (see Red/blue lights on CFA Slip on unit https://emergencylaw.wordpress.com/2012/11/16/redblue-lights-on-cfa-slip-on-unit/). I have now been asked

In relation to an emergency vehicle in Victoria, it needs to be a “Fire Service Unit”under the control of the Country Fire Authority.

My question  – Is the ute with a slip-on unit deemed to be a fire service unit under the control of the CFA?

The problem here is that the term ‘fire service unit’ is not defined; even though the term is used in the Congestion Levy Act 2005 (Vic) s 19, the Eastlink Project Regulations 2008 (Vic) reg 4; the Melbourne City Link Regulations 2009 (Vic) reg 8 and the Road Safety (Vehicles) Regulations 2009 (Vic) Schedule 2, cl 3, definition of ‘emergency vehicle’.

With no statutory definition it’s a matter of giving the words their ordinary meaning.  The original question said “Our small CFA rural brigade owns a “slip-on” firefighting unit comprising water tank, pump and hoses. This can be loaded onto a volunteer’s ute for fire suppression during the fire season.”  Further, in that post I said: ‘We are told that the unit in question is being operated by CFA volunteers, that the slip on unit is owned by the CFA brigade but the ute is privately owned.’

In summary the slip on unit is owned by the CFA, it is placed on a ute that is operated by a CFA volunteer and is then used for fire suppression and ‘has been in use for many years, and was particularly useful on Black Saturday and its aftermath’.

Is that a fire service unit? There would be no doubt, I think, that the regulations are intended to apply to a traditional fire appliance owned and operated by the CFA or the MFB – they would be a fire service unit or nothing is.   Is the critical issue that they are owned by the service?  I don’t think so as the definition of an emergency vehicle refers to a unit that is ‘under the control of’ one of the services.  If a fire service unit had to be owned by them it would be saying, in effect, the vehicle has to be ‘owned and under the control’ of the MFB or CFA.   That would be unnecessary as it would mean that a fire appliance that has been stolen, so it is owned by but not under the control of the CFA, is not a fire service unit, but I’m sure that is not the problem they are trying to deal with (ie car thieves enjoying immunity from red lights).

The only sensible interpretation of ‘fire service unit’ has to be a unit used by the fire service for its purposes but they want to have a nice generic term to catch the various vehicles the fire services use.  One wouldn’t want to say ‘tender’ or ‘pumper’ because that would exclude something else.  Even ‘fire appliance’ may be unnecessarily limiting.   ‘Fire service unit’ must however be something more than any vehicle otherwise the regulation could say that an emergency vehicle is a ‘vehicle’ under the control of one of the fire fighting agencies.

So it’s more than any vehicle, and less than ‘any fire appliance owned by …’.   I would think that any court that had to decide the issue would look at the vehicle and its use and ask was it being used operationally.  Regardless of what is not a ‘fire service unit’ I would think it must be the case that a CFA slip on unit, attached to a vehicle being operated by a CFA volunteer during fire fighting and mop up operations is a fire service unit.

According to the Oxford Dictionaries, ‘deem’ means ‘Regard or consider in a specified way’ (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/deem?q=deem).  When something is deemed to be something else we are treating it as if it is that other thing when it is not.  For example in legislation dealing with animals it might say ‘for the purpose of this Act ‘dog’ includes ‘cat’’ so one could say a cat is deemed to be a dog when clearly a cat is not a dog.

I do not think a a slip-on unit would be ‘deemed to be a fire service unit under the control of the CFA’ I think it is a fire service unit under the control of the CFA.